It seems like Ai Weiwei is everywhere. Recently, the artist dropped his first single (and video) from his upcoming heavy metal album, opened the second leg of his traveling retrospective show, According to What?, and made headlines for his frank words on the U.S. government’s surveillance op, Prism. He also unveiled three new works at the Venice Biennale, including S.A.C.R.E.D., six large dioramas depicting his 81-day detention in 2011, and Straight, a massive work composed of 150 tons of steel rebar.
Bang is the third and most jarring of the installations. A cloudburst of colliding wooden stools, the work fills up one gallery of the German national pavilion. Where S.A.C.R.E.D. is overly didactic and Straight reassuringly abstract, Bang is loud fireworks art.
Along with three other international artists, Ai was invited to participate in this year’s German pavilion, which took an alternative approach to the Biennale’s traditional “national pavilions” program. Rather than explore contemporary themes of German art, the pavilion’s curator Susanne Gaensheimer opted for a more global outlook.
Ai’s manic three-dimensional collage, like many of his more recent installations, makes use of a repeated object and transforms it into a modular building unit. Earlier this year, he exhibited Forever, a giant sculpture consisting of 760 interconnected bicycles. With Bang, Ai uses 886 three-legged wooden stools--silent, unremarkable, yet once ubiquitous avatars of domestic Chinese life--to erect spindly towers.
"The single stool as part of an encompassing sculptural structure may be read as a metaphor for the individual and its relation to an overarching and excessive system in a postmodern world developing at lightning speed," Gaensheimer explains in the preface to the pavilion’s catalog.
The artspeak aside, Bang falls neatly within Ai’s cannon. Its strategy--the artist worked with artisans to produce each of the stools--is familiar, and its symbolism and themes--the worth of recovering or preserving China’s traditions in the face of the country’s changing identity--not yet tired.